THIBODAUX, La – The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Nicholls State University and Chevron partnered to create a virtual pitch competition to help with COVID-19 recovery in Lafourche, St. Mary, Assumption and Terrebonne parishes. As part of the competition, each small business submitted a statement on how COVID-19 has affected them and how the funds will be utilized if selected as a winner. The SBDC has now awarded eight Bayou Region small businesses $5,000 each to go toward recovery efforts.
Winners included Big Mike’s BBQ, Conner’s Repair Service, Country Kids Learning Academy, The Cove, Dat Sauce, Root2Rise, White Car and Workout360.
“Chevron believes in contributing to the areas where we live and work and, especially during this challenging time, supporting Louisiana small businesses,” said Leah Brown, Public Affairs Manager for Chevron’s Gulf of Mexico Business Unit. “We’re proud to partner with Nicholls to help a diverse group of local companies. Through these funds and the incredible work of Nicholls’ Small Business Development Center, we hope to see these businesses recover and thrive.”
“When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, it created a dark cloud of uncertainty over the Bayou Region and its future,” said Jimmy Nguyen, Assistant Director of SBDC. “Nicholls and SBDC established this contest to provide hope for these businesses to progress forward. With Chevron’s generous donation, it provided not only financial relief but a boost of human energy to help the region overcome these challenges and become stronger.”
Owned by Michael Lewis, Big Mike’s BBQ is a restaurant with locations in Houma and Thibodaux. The pandemic has caused the business to lay off 60 percent of its 90 employees. Lewis also planned to move the Houma restaurant to an improved facility, but the loss in sales will delay that for at least two years. Anticipating a higher demand for to go and delivery service, Big Mike’s plans to use the funding to optimize how it performs those services.
“Winning this grant will give us the opportunity to implement necessary changes to our business quicker than expected,” said Lewis. “It will help us to energize our efforts to recover from the disruption of COVID-19. We are honored to be chosen as a winner, it renews our vision and is confirmation that we are doing all the right things to improve our business and to serve our community.”
Conner’s Repair Service is owned by Dean and Michael Conner and operates out of Morgan City. The repair service includes automotive, industrial, marine and agricultural customers. Due to decreased crude oil prices, many of its customers have had to make cuts. The company has also had to stop doing on-site work, sales calls and allowing people into the building, cutting about 40 percent of sales. Conner’s plans to use the funding to hire a new employee to do sandblasting and painting.
“Being a winner in this competition gives us confidence that we are not alone in our mission to bring stronger green initiatives to the oil market and manufacturing back to our country,” said Michael Conner. “We are very grateful for this opportunity and appreciate the recognition for the valuable work we provide for South Louisiana.”
Bonnie Soulet and Casey Soulet own Country Kids Learning Academy in Bourg. The childcare center services children from birth to 10 in the bayou area and the eastside of Houma. The pandemic has caused renovations to the academy to fall five weeks behind schedule. The academy plans to use the funds to purchase technology to support student learning.
“It means a lot to us that our company was a winner in the competition because it will directly benefit the students of Country Kids Learning Academy by funding a mobile computer lab and learning tablets. It will also fund activities for students to explore and experiment with force and motion, magnetism, engineering, roller coasters, ramps, chain reactions and more,” said Bonnie Soulet. “We look forward to providing these valuable opportunities for our students. This says a lot about our company and the fact that people believe in our business idea, our determination and our knowledge in the childcare and early childhood education industry.”
Owned by hospitality and hotel services veteran Terrolyn Mitchell, The Cove at Legacy’s Point is a Thibodaux-based event venue and planning service in one. Due to gathering limitations, The Cove, as well as Elite Couture Events, also owned by Mitchell, has been unable to operate. Mitchell plans to use the funds to get the 6-person team back to work. That will include deep cleaning, organization, painting and parking lot striping.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity that this competition has awarded my companies, The Cove at Legacy Point Event Venue and Elite Couture Events,” Mitchell said. “It’s such an honor to have been selected as a winner in the competition, as it will help to keep us progressing forward. Providing this competition shows that our community cares about our small businesses and desires to see us succeed in these unprecedented times.”
Dat Sauce is a condiment company owned by Scott Green out of Morgan City. As COVID-19 has affected restaurants, it has also impacted Dat Sauce, as the sauce was a table option and many also used the sauce in their menu items. This also impacted the company’s marketing strategy without a base for new customers to try the products. Dat Sauce was also affected by the slowdown in the U.S. Army sales. The funding will help keep the company’s employees on the payroll.
“Winning this contest was a welcomed lifeline and boost of confidence for me and our employees,” Green said. “These challenging times will pass and make us stronger as a company and as individuals. Because of Nicholls, Chevron and the Louisiana Small Business Development Center there is a flicker of light shining through the clouds and all of us at Dat Sauce will sleep better tonight because of their generosity.”
Leah Porche and Shantelle Abshire own Root2Rise, a juice bar and hot power yoga studio in Houma. For the safety of its yoga members, Root2Rise closed due to the pandemic. They have continued to livestream classes online for free but plan to move to a paid service as their online content improves. The juice bar is open with limited hours and menu for curbside service. The funding will pay for software, operating expenses and its yoga teachers.
“Winning this competition means we are valued and supported in a time of great uncertainty,” Porche said. “It lets us know that our products and services are important to our community, especially because our community is so important to us. We are grateful to be able to continue on our mission of helping people feel their best.”
White Car is a marketing consultancy company owned by Cody Blanchard operating out of Thibodaux and New Orleans. Largely depending on networking events for new business, White Car has been unable to gain new business to sustain operations. Several current clients have also had to stop work orders on projects White Car had won due to the pandemic. The company plans to use the funds to purchase additional technology to help its teamwork from home.
“Our team is excited and grateful to have been selected as a winner in the pitch competition,” Blanchard said. “Being selected as a winner has provided an opportunity for our team to expand and grow in an area we love to call home. Amid the onset of COVID-19, we looked at ourselves as a client to develop that same type of solution. Pivoting from our previous growth strategy has us eager to implement our new development and expansion plans as we continue to grow.”
Owned by Nancy Hebert, Workout360 is a gym that offers a variety of classes out of Houma. Fitness centers were among the businesses closed as non-essential. Even if the governor allows gyms to reopen on May 15, Workout360 will be unable to collect any fees from members for May. The grant will help the business pay rent, utilities and salaries so the business can be ready once allowed to reopen. “This means a lot that our company was a winner in this competition,” Hebert said. “It means that we are supported locally, our hard work is paying off and that we can continue running the business with financial help during this difficult time. Our gym has been open for 8 years. We consider our members family. We send prayers to everyone negatively impacted from this pandemic. We thank the Small Business Development Center for their support.”